SESSION 2: Know Yourself Appreciating your values, passions and strengths
Most people have been brought up to believe that to succeed in life you have to work hard, and continually improve through learning new skills. Of course there is some truth in this. But it’s not the whole story when it comes to fulfilling your true potential. As we saw in Part 1, when you get stuck in continual doing/thinking you’re not operating in an optimal way. Striving like this can become the main barrier to success. You also need ‘being’ mode, where there’s more space for your deeper wisdom and energies to emerge.
This section picks up on that theme and takes it much further. We’ll be delving deeper into how to make your life or work feel easier and more fulfilling by getting in touch with some key aspects of your ‘true’ self: your values, passions and strengths. And we will look at how these can become the reliable sources of inspiration and enjoyment in life and at work.
Clearing the way: identifying limiting beliefs
In part 1, we looked at how to use mindfulness to observe your thoughts. Many of our common thoughts are beliefs about ourselves or the world around us. Often they can be very limiting and unhelpful – like ‘I’m no good at this’ or ‘People think I’m odd’ … or whatever it might be for you!
We also showed how mindfulness can teach us to develop a different relationship to our thoughts and beliefs. Remember, thoughts are not facts. This doesn’t mean they are all wrong. But some of them may not be totally in alignment with reality, especially harsh or critical judgements about ourselves (or others).
So before drawing out aspects of your authentic self, it can be helpful to identify and ‘clear out’ some of your most common limiting thoughts and beliefs. It’s like a spring clean of your mind. You can tell if a belief is limiting if it makes you feel bad/low/fearful – along with accompanying unpleasant body sensations. Mindfulness helps you notice when this is happening.
The next step, as you’ll remember from Part 1, is simply to observe these thoughts/beliefs. You’re not trying to get rid of them (which is impossible). Rather you’re creating more distance between you and them, by allowing them to come and go.
Write down some limiting beliefs and their impact on you - either in your workbook or on plain paper using the format to the right (just the first two columns). You’ll fill out the final column later.
Finding your true values, passions and strengths
Having started to spring clean your mind, you’re now to going to draw out some deeper truths about yourself – your values, passions and strengths. A helpful way to kick-start this is to recall experiences of accomplishment from your life – where you were absorbed in the activity, enjoyed yourself, and felt a strong sense of achievement. These could be recent experiences or from much longer ago. Some might be solo experiences, and some might have involved collaboration with others. For this exercise choose three experiences.
Once you’ve identified your three experiences, bring them as clearly to your mind as possible. To help you do this, you could follow these simple steps:
Ground yourself using the three-step breathing space.
Bring each experience to mind in turn.
For each experience, to help make it more vivid in your mind, ask yourself what you were doing, thinking, and feeling at the time. If there were challenges, what were they and how did you overcome them? Was anyone else involved? What were they doing and saying?
Allow anything that is connected to that experience to come into your awareness – emotions, thoughts, body sensations, visual images, sounds, smells, etc.
Pause briefly between each experience, and come back to an awareness of your breath and body.
You’re now invited to draw out the essence of each experience – and the significance it still holds for your life now in terms of your deepest values, passions and strengths. Below is an explanation of what you’re looking for in each column.
Values: This is about what matters most to you in the world and your life. Values are what you want to stand for and how you want to live. Our lives feel more enjoyable and meaningful when we can live consciously in accordance with our values. There’s a full list of values in the workbook.
Passions: This is about pure pleasure and love for things, which we all need to keep us going in life. For each experience, what activities or tasks gave you particular pleasure? Why did you enjoy it – what was the source of the pleasure? Were other people involved, or were you on your own, or was it a mixture of both? What else can you remember about the experience that brings back a clear memory of pleasure?
Strengths: What activities or tasks seemed to come very easily and naturally to you, without you needing to try hard, or get much support, or consciously learn something new? Or if you did need to learn something new, which aspects of that did you particularly take to and enjoy?
The key principle underlying this exercise is that although you are continually changing and evolving, there are certain aspects of your ‘true self’ that remain more constant. Often you may lose contact with these, particularly when under stress or pressure. Recalling strong positive experiences from your past can help you reconnect with them. Note down your answers for each of your three recalled life experiences - either in your workbook or on plain paper using the format to the left. You may notice some big overlaps or repetitions in your answers. Don’t worry if there are or aren’t.
Next, review all your answers and capture a list of your main values, passions and strengths - either in your workbook or on plain paper using the format to the right. You may find that, having done this exercise, lots of other values, passions and strengths come to mind. If so, include these too. Take your time doing this over a few days. Keep coming back to it to add in things as they come to mind. Review and reflect on what you’ve captured. This is the truth of who you are. It’s the foundation on which you can most reliably move towards your deepest aspirations in life and at work.
Envisioning your future
In Part 1 we saw that sometimes ‘acceptance’ of experience – including when it’s difficult – is all you need. There may not be anything you need to fix, or it’s just a waste of energy trying. But on other occasions there may be things you can do to affect change. You have agency over your life – you can influence things, and shape the direction of your life. This is the C of the ABC model – choosing wise responses to your experience. Sometimes this is about day-to-day things or the near future. But you can also turn your wise attention to your longer-term future. Doing this is far more effective and meaningful when you are more deeply rooted in a full appreciation of your authentic values, passions and strengths. So now take yourself through two related exercises to envision the direction you would like your life to take.
a) The big picture
Choose a point in your future (e.g. 5 or 10 years from now).
Take yourself through a three-step breathing space.
Next, picture yourself in your chosen future time. Imagine you’re really thriving in your life. Ask yourself: where you live, what work you do, how you spend your time, who are the main people in your life, and how you positively impact on them.
As you reflect, allow any thoughts, emotions, words and images to emerge without censoring yourself.
When you’re ready, bring the reflection to a close, and notice your body and breathing for a moment.
Now, write down your key insights, either in your workbook or on plain paper. If you’re very visual, use images. If you’re more verbal, use words. Or use both. Keep coming back to this vision to add anything new.
b) Writing your obituary
This may sound like a morbid exercise, but it can be very positive to imagine the life you want to have lived. Write some reflections - either in your workbook or on plain paper - in answer to these questions:
What will you have done and achieved?
What qualities will people celebrate in you?
How will you have affected other people?
What difference will you have made to the world?
Guided meditations for download or streaming
Mindful movement video
Home practice after part 2
1. Alternate each day between these two practices:
‘Being with’ meditation – follow the instructions on the audio meditation
‘Movement meditation’ – follow the video / audio instructions
2. Identifying limiting beliefs: continue making some notes about your limiting beliefs, using the format of the table introduced above
3. Finding your true values, passions and strengths: continue making some notes, using the format of the table introduced above
4. Envisioning your future: continue making some notes about your ideal future